By a 3-2 vote last night at the Falmouth Public Library selectmen voted a long-range plan for the wind turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Facility, electing to increase the operation for both machines from 12 hours per day to 16 hours per day.
The move will become effective October 1, prior to which the board will vote a specific eight-hour window of time that the turbines will be shut down.
The board had been considering a range of models starting with the one they chose—considered a break-even scenario—to operating them with no limitations, 24 hours per day. Last week town manager Julian M. Suso focused on four scenarios in which the two turbines would operate to the point that they were generating revenue that could be used for mitigation measures at the homes of neighbors impacted by the machines.
But selectmen elected to provide mitigation only by way of limiting the operation for the turbines which Selectman Kevin E. Murphy argued would provide residents with what they wanted most, minimal disruption of their lives. And it would ensure the town would not be losing money on the turbines as it has since May 2012 when it voted to operate the machines from 7 AM to 7 PM.
Mr. Murphy said based upon public testimony he believed the best scenario was the one that impacted neighbors the least. “They want us to mitigate the situation to the best possible terms within our means and within our means is to break even without disrupting their lives or causing sleep deprivation,” he said, adding that it was clear that neighbors did not want mitigation in the form of purchasing homes, insulating homes or covering the cost of purchasing shades to minimize the impact of shadow flicker from turbines.
That scenario, Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said, “doesn’t provide any mitigation at all.”
“I agree,” Selectman Douglas H. Jones replied.
“I don’t think it helps the neighbors at all,” she said, later calling the proposal a poor one in that it does not “show any leadership or move us forward in terms of the need to increase funding to operate the turbines or do anything to move the situation with the neighbors forward… I think this is just maintaining the status quo.”
“To make money on these [turbines] in my mind and my idea is blood money,” Mr. Murphy said.
Moffitt Sticks to Stance
Siding with Ms. Flynn was Selectman Rebecca Moffitt, who preferred operating the turbines without any limitations. It is an opinion she said she has held since running for selectmen this past spring. “I haven’t changed one bit,” she said. “I have a feeling the turbines bring revenues to this town that are needed.”
Ms. Moffitt also questioned the idea of adopting the model because it would require the town to seek financial assistance from the state. Falmouth will look to have the $4.85 million loan it received in stimulus money to construct Wind 2 to be forgiven and turned into a grant. Additionally, it will ask the state to forgive Falmouth the $1 million it gave the town for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that represent the energy expected to be generated by Wind 1 between 2015 and 2029.
And the town will request that the state provide funds for mitigation to neighbors impacted by the turbines.
Whether the state will agree to some, or all, of these terms is not known, although Ms. Moffitt did not believe it would. Earlier this year when selectmen recommended to Town Meeting the turbines be dismantled—a proposal voters did not approve in the ballot in May—the state balked at offering any assistance.
“After all the discussion and words, we seem to be at the very same point we were at a year ago,” Ms. Moffitt said, adding that adopting the model shows no growth.
Mr. Jones shot back at Ms. Moffitt, saying that all of the proposed models before the board would require help from the state.
“I want to go to the state and say this is what we feel might serve the residents best,” Mr. Jones said. “They have no interest in having their homes insulated, no interest in financial renumeration and no interest in us buying their homes. They begged us not to run them at night. Every other option does not give them more than six hours of quiet.”
Chairman Brent V.W. Putnam admitted he was less inclined to vote for operating the machines 24 hours per day, noting that “the idea we are going to run the turbines more to generate money to mitigate the problem is circular logic. We are sort of chasing our tail in that situation.”
He said he could not justify running the turbines more, simply to provide mitigation for the neighbors or to conduct scientific studies to learn more about the machines and their impacts on the neighbors. “It doesn’t sit well to have the neighbors be guinea pigs to find out what is going on,” he said.
While he voted in favor of the 16-hour operational model, he said, having to ask the state for assistance could ultimately be an exercise in futility.
If the state does not offer its help, the board will have to go back to the drawing board to find a new solution to the problem that has plagued the town since Wind 1 became operational in March 2010.
Turbines: Everyone Has an Opinion
Over the past three years the turbines have divided the town with some residents calling for the turbines to come down, some calling for them to be run full time and some calling for more of a compromise. Prior to the board’s vote last night that array of opinions was on display as the public spent close to two hours offering their input to the board.
Robert A. Frosch of McCallum Drive, Falmouth, kicked off the public comment session by calling on the board to consider conducting more studies to determine what exactly is happening with the turbines and why they are impacting residents.
Others, such as Judith G. Stetson of Quissett Avenue, Woods Hole, demanded the board take steps to reverse the damage that has been done to residents living around the wind turbines. “We are responsible for the huge mistake we made,” she said. “We must not continue to deny our mistake, and not continue to allow a small group of residents suffer consequences of our mistake.”
Judith Fenwick of Mill Road, a former member of the Wind Turbine Options Process Group, wondered why selectmen had not considered the possibility of taking the turbines down and replacing them with a photovoltaic array.
Several residents warned the board about the impacts of climate change, stressing the need for the turbines to remain up and Falmouth to do its part by keeping the turbines on and showing its commitment to renewable energy.
Linda E. Davis of Boxberry Hill Road, Hatchville, warned that if selectmen focus solely on the revenues generated by the machines, they would pay the consequences. “Run them 24/7 and if you can find a few more hours, run them another five. Run them in the winter time, the summer time in thunderstorms,” she said. “And when you vote, I’ll tell you this, you should vote unanimously and you put your signatures on that vote and, management, you put your signature on that vote. And when the final chapter is written and they [turbines] fall all of you should go.”
After hearing more than three dozen residents speak, at times passionately, about the subject, Jonathan Goldman of Sidney Street, Woods Hole, complained that little had changed, at least with the divisive nature of the wind turbines. “Yes, we get a chance to say our piece, but the reality is these are the recommendations and unless there is some kind of forward step, we are moving very, very much in a circle,” he said. “We need healing and I’m sorry to say I don’t hear that healing tonight.”
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